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Authenticity and female leaders: a qualitative study exploring the leadership practices of female university administrators




Thornhill, Kathy L., author
Kuk, Linda, advisor
Albert, Lumina, committee member
Banning, Jim, committee member
Davies, Tim, committee member

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Using the construct of authentic leadership, this interpretive phenomenological study explored the leadership practices of seven female university leaders. Authentic leadership involves self-awareness, balanced processing, authentic action and relational transparency. Self-awareness is a lifelong process that involves understanding one's values and priorities. Balanced processing involves reflecting on strengths and weaknesses in an honest and accurate manner and not over or under-stating one's skills. Authentic action is behaving in a manner that is consistent with one's values. Relational transparency is being open and forthcoming with information and the process by which decisions are made. Five overarching themes emerged from the study: (1) leadership strategies, (2) leadership development, (3) meaning making, (4) developing and maintaining relationships, and (5) the larger organizational context, which included the university environment, specifically. The applicable themes were applied to the components of authentic leadership to elucidate further the phenomenon of authentic leadership. Their understanding of self was directly evident in their leadership strategies. They used values-driven leadership and were unwilling to compromise their values, whether in decision-making, strategic planning or even the institution in which they worked. They strove to be positive and to create an environment where people felt respected and appreciated. They sought to improve themselves, whether by self-reflection, reading leadership literature, or taking on new challenges. They made meaning of their lives by reflecting on their achievements and future goals, as well as the difference they made in others' lives. They were committed to their family and ensured that their family was integrated with their professional responsibilities. Relationships were important to them and they recognized the value that developing and maintaining relationships had on their personal and professional lives. They discussed the importance of mentors and they strove to empower others. They felt it was their responsibility, as leaders, to encourage and support others' development. The university setting was important to them. These leaders saw the university as a place that changes people's lives for the better and felt honored to work at a university. The mission of the university was important to them and they were aware that their decisions impacted everyone at the university, especially the students.


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authentic leadership
women's leadership
higher education


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